If, like me, you have signed up for the Environment Agency pollution alerts and the Surfers Against Sewage alerts, you will have been dismayed by the number of alerts you have received over the summer. However, the alerts are confusing because they point out the additional risk caused by the potential for stormy weather. Many residents confuse this alert for actual discharges.
The Environment Agency has confirmed to me that Pollution Risk Forecast (PRF) warnings relate to a much wider scope than just sewage discharges from water company storm overflows (CSOs), so even when there are no discharges from CSOs taking place there are still occasions when there is a risk of lower coastal water quality.
The PRFs are based on a number of factors including rain, tide and wind. These factors affect the levels of bacteria that get washed into the sea from the surrounding catchments and how they disperse. This includes run off from urban surface water drainage, agricultural land and discharges of higher than normally contaminated waters via rivers and streams. When these factors combine to make short term pollution likely, the Environment Agency issue a pollution risk warning. Empirical past data, that is used to construct the model the Environment Agency base warnings upon, shows that lower coastal water quality is dependent on factors that are broader than whether CSOs are discharging or not.
The Environment Agency agree that there is still a level of misunderstanding with PRFs, Beachbouy and Surfers Against Sewage warnings. I want to see a more accurate system put in place. Residents and visitors should be able to receive more up-to-date, real-time information as to what is actually happening. I am encouraged that Southern Water have agreed to continue to engage with the Environment Agency to try and improve the current system. This is something I will be following up on with both organisations.